How Chocolate is Made
Pure chocolate, real chocolate, is nothing more (and nothing less!) than cacao fruit that has been processed (naturally) into a more palatable form.
The healthiest way to enjoy the fruit of the cacao tree is actually to consume the seeds of the fruit raw, but for most people who are fortunate enough to be able to get it raw, it is perhaps the singularly most bitter thing that they have ever tasted!
While the cacao seed itself is bitter, each seed is surrounded by a white mucilaginous flesh that is actually super-sweet. “Chocolate” essentially comes from combining the benefits of the bitter seed with those of the sweet flesh. This happens in what is known as the 'processing' of cacao, which consists essentially of first fermenting the cacao and then drying it.
Phase 1: Cacao Processing
The details of how cacao is processed greatly influence the final flavor-profile of a finished chocolate. In order to produce a delicious, rich, layered, deep-bodied chocolate, the following steps are required:
A) Care for the Trees. Careful, well-managed stewardship of the cacao trees includes good, organic soil management, regular pruning of trees, and maintaining a healthy, diverse cacao forest.
B) Timely Harvesting. Cacao fruit must be harvested at just the right time to ensure full, optimum flavor.
C) Proper Fermentation. Immediately after harvesting, cacao fruit is cracked open and put into a an appropriately-sized vessel for fermenting. The fermentation is a fairly-involved, scientific process which could be considered the foundation to the entire cacao process. During fermentation, a chemical reaction occurs in which the properties of the sweet-flesh literally combine with the bitter-seed inside, so that by the end of the fermentation process the finished seeds have altered in their chemical make-up, and actually have begun to resemble (though only slightly) what we know as the taste of chocolate.
D) Complete Drying. After fermentation the cacao seeds are dried, ideally in the sun, until they are completely dried all the way through. The cacao processing is then complete.
Phase 2: Chocolate Processing
Normally cacao processing (phase 1) and all aspects of chocolate processing (phase 2 onward) are done by completely different entities (with cacao processors selling processed seeds or “beans” to chocolate makers); but at Kuá Chocolate, we do it all, taking care of the entire process ourselves.
A) Cacao Roasting. Dried cacao seeds are slow-roasted, heating them during constant movement to evenly warm the seeds (but not burn!) to the core.
B) Shell and Winnow. Roasted cacao seeds are then cracked to remove a dry shell surrounding the 'meat' of the cacao inside, after which the shell must be separated usually through a winnowing process.
C) Fine Grinding. Or more accurately, the meat of the cacao seeds are conched or melanged, which is a process which goes beyond simple grinding to utilize nothing more than the forces of friction and compression to grind the beans down to a completely viscous chocolate liquor. At this stage, we now officially have “chocolate”, albeit a drinking chocolate.
D) Tempering. In order to produce a solid chocolate, such as in a bar form, that keeps its shape, does not easily melt or turn to fudge, possesses a level of snap and even a nice sheen to it, the chocolate must be tempered. This is a process in which the chocolate is first cooled, then slowly and evenly heated (while in motion) to a very specific, precise temperate, and then immediately cooled back down (evenly) to another very specific temperature point, and then very quickly poured into its final form. This step is perhaps the most complicated, if not only the most detailed, of the chocolate-making process.
E) Allow to set. Once properly tempered, the chocolate is allowed to set before being removed from its molds for packaging. Or if you are visiting us at our workshop (for example), to enjoy right away!